Surfing has remained a constant and dominant force in Dr. Marc Adams’ exercise and leisure life since he was a child. Marc first got the idea to study more about the science of surfing while studying biology as an undergraduate at California State University Fullerton. As his passion grew, Osteopathic Medicine proved to be a perfect blend of his interests in sports and science.
After years of successfully applying an approach developed specifically for surfers in his medical practice, Marc now shares his knowledge in a newly released book, Surf Longer, SUP Stronger: A New Approach to Advance Your Performance, Avoid Injuries, and Surf and Standup Paddleboard for a Lifetime, to help a much larger audience than he can do through his practice alone.
We caught up with Dr. Marc Adams to have a chat about surf, health and life.
Hi Marc, where are you at the moment and what’s keeping you busy?
Hi Brad. I am living in Rhode Island and practicing medicine in Massachusetts. My medical specialty is Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and I work half the week with a group of doctors at a pain management center and half the week with a group of Family Medicine doctors. My practice is very busy and I just finished a year-long acupuncture training program for physicians through Harvard Medical School. I also have 3 young children and have been coaching my son’s baseball team. So keeping busy is not a problem.
Had any good waves lately?
Here in the Northeast United States we had one of the most brutally cold winters ever. We got slammed by several snowstorms that dumped a foot or two of snow at a time. With those storms come good waves and the late winter and early spring gave us some consistent swells. I surf some lesser-known spots in Rhode Island, but I actually get more time to surf when visiting my family on Cape Cod or my in-laws in Maine because then I have people to watch my kids so I can get in the water for a few hours. So I get to surf a good variety of places. Recently though it has been pretty flat so I have been doing more standup paddleboarding and fishing than surfing. Anything to get in the ocean when I have free time.
Your new book Surf Longer, SUP Stronger is an excellent resource for us waveriders. Most of us never consider the mechanics of our pursuit until something breaks! Can you tell us what readers will find in the book?
That is true and things do break-down especially when you are surfing for several hours each session and when you continue to surf as you get older. Surfing is very unique in that it is one of the few activities of any kind that you can meet a person who is say 60 years old and they have been doing that activity since they were 6 years old and are still just as stoked as the day they started. Surfers never want to stop, but injuries can force some to quit or force them into riding different boards or only certain conditions. Surfing has always been about a feeling of freedom and part of that freedom is the ability to use your body effectively at any age to its full potential.
The book describes specific ways to both prevent injuries and recover from injuries. There are practical exercises starting at the most basic body positions and movements such as sitting, standing, and lying down. If someone cannot do those correctly, and most people don’t, then performing movement patterns as complicated as what surfing demands will undoubtedly make it difficult for an athlete to perform at his or her fullest potential and will also lead to physical pain and injuries.
If you are not doing as well as you know you could or if any activity is causing pain it will be less enjoyable. When a person can move smoothly and efficiently they will perform better and feel better. That is why this book will be useful for everyone from novices all the way to ASP tour professionals, and to both surfers and standup paddleboarders with no pain as well as those with significant injuries.
The book progresses the reader from the background and basics in Section I through the sport-specific techniques in Section II culminating in lifestyle advice and how to navigate a complicated medical world if you do have a specific injury requiring treatment in Section III.
What inspirEd you to write the book?
My inspiration came from my love for sports and human movement. Surfing can be the most graceful and spontaneous of all sports. Add to that the shapes, colors, and motions of the surrounding natural world and you get beauty that transcends athletics to become art.
My inspiration to put together an organized compilation of ideas in writing came when after practicing medicine for 10 years and surfing for over 30 years I continued to see patients and surfers doing the same things wrong both when they are on their boards or on land that will inevitably lead to physical problems. Over the years I was surprised that nobody had published anything comprehensive to help surfers with their mechanics that went beyond just stretching and strengthening, or yoga and pilates. Those approaches can be great but they can also be, and often are, done disastrously wrong and become counterproductive. This book will not only make you a better and more healthy surfer, but if you lift weights, race triathalons, or do yoga or pilates it will help make sure you are doing those more constructively as well.
My medical practice is very busy and I take care of some patients with incredibly complicated chronic pain problems so I started to write down descriptions in simple terms explaining the techniques I was using for the patients. I then added a few practical exercises, then some advice about how to take care of themselves on their own between office visits with me. There is also a guided visualization I talk patients through when needed. Many patients said they wished they could bring me home to repeat it for them every day. That led me to make a rudimentary recording that they could listen to several times a day. Listening to the recording helped treatments last longer and helped patients get better faster. The recording was improved and included in the book in Chapter 5 where readers are given access to the MP3 version online.
At the same time I had started getting in the water with some surfers to help them with certain pain problems that seemed to stem from surfing itself. The ideas all started to come together for me. The old adage in writing is, write about what you know. So, I wrote about surfing and biomechanics. Overall, the book tries to seamlessly unite the art of surfing with the art of living for every person ranging from very ill chronic pain patients to highly functioning elite athletes.
For me personally the Osteopathic approach has yielded by far the best results when I’ve been injured (whether whiplash from a car accident or a long-term shoulder injury). Can you tell us a little about Osteopathic medicine and why it is so effective?
That is awesome that you are familiar with Osteopathy – not awesome that you were in a car accident or that you have a shoulder injury, but I am glad that with those problems you found your way to an Osteopath.
Osteopathy was started by an M.D. surgeon, Andrew Taylor Still, just after the U.S. Civil War at a time when the allopathic medications being used were either ineffective or made the patients more sick. Dr. Still began to use physical methods of improving the flow of blood, lymph, and cerebrospinal fluid to bring the necessary nutrients to the tissues and to remove metabolic waste products from the tissues. He emphasized the need for a deep knowledge of anatomy and physiology to be able to apply well-reasoned treatments based on the inter-relationship of structure and function instead of giving toxic drugs. An effective treatment was considered to be one that could stimulate the body’s self-healing mechanisms using the least force possible. In those ways Osteopathy differs from many other approaches. It was an incredibly divergent view of patient care in the late 1800’s, and even today with so many types of treatment available, many using buzzwords such as holistic, natural, and patient-centered, it is unique in that Osteopathy is not just about adjusting subluxations, or removing blockages, or unwinding strain patterns. Osteopathy is a discipline that trains physicians to connect to each individual patient’s physiologic system in order to both assess the health of that person and to treat problems. Dr. Still lived and practiced by those principles and he got great results. He became well-known and much in demand so he started teaching his ideas by opening a school to train new physicians that would be called D.O.’s instead of M.D.’s.
In my opinion, what makes Osteopathy so effective as you said you experienced, is summed up in one statement when Dr. Still said, “To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.” That sounds easy, right? It has taken me about 17 years of thinking about that statement fairly often to even feel as if I am beginning to understand it and make use of it in my practice. Think about it for a minute. If you go to an M.D. you will get an ever-lengthening problem list such as back pain, rotator cuff disorder, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, diabetes, hypertension, and on and on. Those are all diseases or just symptoms. If you go to a Physical Therapist you may be told you have restriction of a joint or weakness of a muscle group. Chiropractors tell you you are out of alignment. Acupuncturists say that there is a blockage of your Spleen channel or stagnant stomach chi. Those are all diseases or just the distant effects of what is really wrong. To truly look for the health in a person’s body and to be able to work with that therapeutically is what distinguishes Osteopaths and what makes a treatment a much different experience than anything else out there.
I think there is often confusion about what a D.O. is and what we do for several reason, and they are probably all our own fault. The most important is that here in the U.S. most D.O.’s practice medicine exactly as M.D.’s do and choose not to fully employ the whole Osteopathic philosophy or use the techniques. In other countries Osteopathic Doctors are not licensed to perform surgery, deliver babies, and prescribe medications so there is more uniformity in what a patient can expect if they go to a D.O. for treatment. In the U.S. you might have a Genereral Practitioner, an obstetrician, and an orthopedic surgeon who are all D.O.’s yet they all only offer allopathic medicine treatments. It is surprisingly difficult to find and Osteopath who can give a good treatment that is truly based on the original principles on which the profession was founded. That becomes confusing to patients when a physician they know is a D.O. but does not really practice Osteopathically. The ideal is a physician who has allopathic medicines and surgeries as possible tools but also is very skilled in manipulation and working with a patient’s self-correcting mechanisms to improve their health and decrease the need for medications and surgeries. The founder of the profession was a surgeon and had all of those tools available to him and used what was most appropriate and best for the patient in each individual case.
I am glad you were able to experience a good Osteopathic treatment. In the book I go into much more depth. There is an entire chapter in Section I devoted to the history and philosophy of Osteopathy. There is also another chapter detailing the Alexander Technique. The chapter after that then explains how the Alexander Technique provided a good framework for using Osteopathic principles to teach surfers and standup paddleboarders how to improve their board handling skills.
How surfing has shaped your life and lifestyle?
Surfing has shaped every aspect of my life. When I was a teenager it gave me a much needed alternate outlet to competitive sports. I played several organized sports when I was young but after a while felt as if I was playing them for reasons other than just loving the feeling of playing. Surfing was something my family had no background in, and very few of my classmates surfed. It was always something I did on my own and for my own reasons.
Surfing led me to live and go to college in Southern California for 6 years, then I returned there again for my one year medical internship. When I applied to medical schools, then later residencies, I only applied to programs in California and on the East Coast so that I would always be near the beach and be able to surf.
When my three children were babies I was busy, as you might imagine. I had less time in the water. My way of staying connected to the sport I love while still being a good husband and good father was to write this book. I worked on the book while my children napped, after they went to sleep, on holidays and on vacations when the kids had the rest of my family around to take care of them and entertain them.
It just feels so good to be at the ocean. Now, being so busy with work and kids it is harder to coordinate when I have free time with when the waves are good. The rare times when I have a few hours to myself I need to go. I am much less picky about the waves I surf. Around 5 or 6 years ago I started standup paddleboarding as a way to stay in shape and get out on the water more often. Over those years as I have watched that sport grow and grow I noticed that it is fraught with people creating tremendous strain in their bodies unnecessarily which leads to injury. That is why I analyzed standup paddleboarding, began to work with some friends in the water on their SUPs, and included a section about improving SUP technique in the book.
Three top tips for wellness and a lifetime of surfing?
I will give you three that are all in the category of “easier said than done”.
1. Learn the proper way to move.
There are right and wrong ways to use your body. Unfortunately, most of us are never taught what we need to know about movement. There are aspects of this that could be and should be part of every elementary school curriculum so that it is learned early and doesn’t need to be corrected later which is more difficult to do.
2. Be mindful of what you eat and drink.
There is a chapter toward the end of the book about nutrition. It is not about ratios of carbs to proteins to fats, or about points or calories. I guarantee it is an approach to eating you have not yet considered.
3. Create a loving environment around you.
The first 2 tips are described in the book. This third one may sound a little new-age and corny, but is hopefully a by-product of pursuing the advice in the book. It is also part of a good Osteopathic treatment. You yourself, Brad, may have felt that first-hand already. But you do not have to go to an Osteopath for that, there are many ways to create that yourself.
Where’s your dream surf session and who is there?
That is easy. It would be about 20 years in the future with my 3 kids when they will all be in their mid-twenties at any solid spot with nobody else out. Hopefully, at that point, they will all still be happy and healthy, be much better surfers than me, and still want to hang-out with their Dad. Dream session, but definitely possible.
Maybe that is not the type of answer you were looking for so I will add to that the session would be at Jeffrey’s Bay with Shaun Thompson as our surf guide for the first hour then he would take off so we could surf together for 3 or 4 more hours.
What are your favorite books and who inspires you?
I have a long list of favorite books so this could be a lengthy discussion but I will try to keep it brief. The funny thing is I never read much when I was a kid. Even the required reading in high school I usually only skimmed to be able to pass tests. But my mother is always reading. I remember her always having these huge volumes next to her taking every opportunity to read more. That must have rubbed-off on me. One year when I was about 19 years old I decided I would go back and read all the classic books I was supposed to read in high school. The first one I read was The Last of the Mohicans and I loved it. I got into Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hesse, and of course Herman Mellville. Over the years I have read some Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Proust and I tried to read most of the well-known U.S. authors. Surf trips also give you a lot of time to read and I had travelled to Central America and South America in my 20’s so went through a phase reading Isabelle Allende, Gabrielle Garcia Marquez, and others. In addition, I also have hundreds of medical texts and I have always tried to keep abreast of complementary medicine of all kinds. My wife has often threatened to ban me from Amazon so that I can not buy more books.
Right now, for summer, I just started Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. I am also re-reading a book about homeopathy by Dr. Rajan Sankaran. Even if you know nothing about homeopathy and do not use it, understand it, or agree with it his writing presents a fascinating view of health, disease, and medical care. I guess mostly I am inspired by authors who make me think and reconsider my view of the world.
Oh, and we read lots of books to our kids. Right now my son is really into astronomy so I enjoy reading those books to him. We also read books about fish, the ocean, and sea shells. It is also very cool going back to the classic children’s literature and right now I have been reading Pippi Longstocking to my daughters and Encyclopedia Brown to my son. The kids all like the Dr. Seuss books too.
How can people connect with you and discover MORE?
The book is available on Amazon: Surf Longer, SUP Stronger: A New Approach to Advance Your Performance, Avoid Injuries, and Surf and Standup Paddleboard for a Lifetime, Barnes and Noble/Nook, and iTunes/iBooks. The website has more information at surflongersupstronger.com.